“Sufficiency Economy: Thailand’s Operationalised Model of Happiness”
His Excellency Mr. Paiboon Wattanasiritham
Deputy Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Thailand
at the International Conference on Happiness and Public Policy
18-19 July 2007, United Nations Conference Centre (UNCC), Bangkok
Ladies and Gentlemen,
May peace and happiness be with all of us ! On behalf of the Royal Thai Government and the people of the Kingdom of Thailand, it is indeed a great pleasure to welcome all of you to Bangkok and to the International Conference on “Happiness and Public Policy”.
We are gathered here for a very special reason – that is to renew the debate on a new development paradigm based on human well-being and happiness. This conference also comes at a very opportune time, as our nations struggle to raise the living standards of our people amidst problems raised by global warming and the unsustainable use of our resources.
Happiness is the essence of life. Most philosophers assume that happiness results from the comparison between notions of how-life-should be, with the perceptions of life-as-it-is. Meanwhile, many social scientists believe that true development of society only occurs when material and spiritual development happen together, complementing and reinforcing each other. Happiness is therefore intimately linked with the quality of life and the society in which we live, meaning our social, economic and environmental circumstances.
Over the past several years, efforts have been made to try to better understand and monitor happiness and well-being. Various studies in different countries have attempted to show how the dynamics of poverty and inequality affect well-being. These studies revealed many elements of well-being which cannot be captured by income measures alone, but which require indicators that integrate information on the social, health and other aspects of the environment that shape our society.
This global trend which utilizes both economic and social methodologies for measuring people’s happiness and well-being is a welcome sign of a focus shift towards recognition of spiritual well-being and the importance of non-economic aspects. This has several implications for policy makers. First, it stresses that concentrating on Gross Domestic Product alone does not necessarily lead to well-being. Second, it calls on policy makers to conduct a cost-benefit analysis of factors significant to the people, other than the economic factor. Finally, the studies offer policy makers innovative ways to deal with longstanding challenges. So, a central issue for this conference is to examine how far the finds of the various studies and the emergence of new national models of development can apply to the circumstances of other countries.
It was His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s concern for the happiness and well-being of the Thai people and other residents of Thailand, particularly during the 1997 economic crisis, which led to the bestowal of the philosophy of Sufficiency Economy upon the Thai nation. His Majesty meant the philosophy to guide the conduct of people at all levels on matters concerning development and governance. As such, the Sufficiency Economy philosophy places humanity at the center of development. It focuses on well-being rather than wealth, places sustainability at the core of all efforts, understands the need for human security and concentrates on building people’s capabilities to develop their full potential, with safeguards against external challenges. In short, it is about societal happiness.
The Royal Thai Government has adopted this philosophy as a guideline for the country’s overall development, particularly in addressing key challenges such as reducing disparities and enhancing economic growth while ensuring sustainability. The Sufficiency Economy also serves as the fundamental principle behind our 10th National Economic and Social Development Plan for 2007-2011. Indeed, in implementing this 10th Plan and as recently called upon by the Prime Minister, we will be placing the social aspect at the fore. The prime minister even went as far as saying that, the name of the NESDB (National Economic and Social Development Board) should be changed to NSEDB (National Social and Economic Development Board). This means emphasizing human development, fostering a more robust society, ensuring equal development between urban and rural areas and enhancing the capacities of communities to cope with adverse economic conditions. But with these steps, one may say we have already operationalised the Sufficiency Economy model in public policy.
Operationalising the model is nonetheless a big challenge. It is a matter of adapting the thinking to the circumstances of each individual, family, company or community. All are urged to re-examine what sufficiency means for them, and to see where balance lies. As such, it also requires a cooperative approach that involves government, the private sector, civil society and communities. Furthermore, its perspective is outward-looking and gradual, starting with prudent initiatives to achieve self-reliance and then being able to help others.
Within this development framework, the Government’s role is an enabling one. Thus our Happiness Strategy focuses on initiatives to achieve self-reliance and sustainable development, such as income generation and community savings schemes. It is a matter of helping people help themselves, and strengthening communities. For happiness is when we have human security and safe communities living in harmony and cooperation, with equal access to food, healthcare, housing, education and other social services, immune from indebtedness and irresponsible consumption as well as other excesses. Happiness is when we have justice and fairness. Happiness is when we are empowered.
So, it is fitting that this conference is being held in partnership with the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP), for it was the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) that recognised the work of His Majesty by presenting the Human Development Lifetime Achievement Award to His Majesty in 2006. And it was again the UNDP who published the Thailand Human Development Report 2007 with the theme of “Sufficiency Economy and Human Development”, thereby presenting the Sufficiency Economy before a global audience. We believe that the UN’s role will be vital in further spreading the message, encouraging the production of case studies and introducing new indicators and benchmarks along the lines of the Human Development Index and the Millennium Development Goals.
Indeed, this event gives us the opportunity to discuss the Sufficiency Economy and various societal happiness development models and their applications in a wider context. It allows us to reflect on radically different development paradigms, which focus not only on the traditional economic indicators and material values, but also on subjective measures such as well-being and life-satisfaction. And we do hope that in the process, this Thai model of sustainability will be regarded as a useful model for other countries, particularly in view of its cooperative approach.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The challenge before you is a difficult one. However, your deliberations will have significant implications for the future of public policy development to counter poverty, inequality, unsustainability, and underdevelopment. Indeed, if we can reach common views on how to alleviate inequalities and unsustainability by promoting the well-being of our peoples and our societies, we may all come closer to realizing the goal of sustainable happiness.
So, over the next two days, I would like to urge participants to frankly exchange views and share perspectives. I am convinced that the discussions would not only enrich the debate, but also open new policy directions for all of us.
In closing, I would like, once again, to welcome all of you to Thailand. I do hope that your stay here is both enjoyable and productive, and I wish the Conference the greatest success.
Lastly, I would like to say that, when talking about happiness, do not forget to be happy !
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